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American Idol apologizes for Steven Tyler but delivers John Wayne Schulz

American Idol producers highlighted Steven Tyler's antics Wednesday with a phony apology. But for John Wayne Schulz, no apologies needed.

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Ryan Seacrest is still the glue on American Idol, especially with the new antics of judge Steven Tyler. Above, Seacrest hosts the season finale of American Idol on May 21, 2008, in Los Angeles.

Mark Mainz

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American Idol opened Wednesday evening in Austin, Texas, with a bogus apology from the producers about Steven Tyler's "outrageous" behavior last week.

It claimed that Tyler had been warned and it would not happen again. They then quickly cut to Tyler being his off-color self again. The apology was never intended to be taken seriously but it was intended to be funny.

It kind of brought to mind the contestants who dress up in ridiculous outfits and give disingenuous, over-the-top auditions because they think that America is going to find them amusing. Idol should have learned after nine seasons that exhibitionism, especially its own, just isn't funny. And while it is obvious that American Idol is banking on the antics of Steven Tyler to propel the show into the headlines this season, trying to force feed their fan base probably isn't the best approach.

If American Idol wants something to genuinely apologize for, it could start with this week's episode.

After their thinly veiled attempt to showcase their wild and crazy judge, they jumped right into what is fast becoming their most egregious sin of this season, the heartfelt backstory. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what is most irksome about these stories.

Is it the montages set to music? The way the sun is perpetually setting in the background, casting golden rays upon the crown of our newest, forlorn contestant? Is it the forced and utterly predictable way the judges "just happen" upon a question that opens the contestant's flood gates? Why wouldn't Jennifer Lopez be intrigued to learn how contestant, Corey Levoy, got to the auditions that day?

It surely wasn't just a segue for Corey to explain that his sister brought him there and that they were separated at birth and never knew the other one existed until they were teenagers. Of course, once hearing about her, the judges just had to bring her into the audition room, leaving the viewers to wonder if this show was really a singing competition or just a Jerry Springer spin-off in disguise.

Was there nothing redeeming in this episode of Idol? Well, Randy Jackson continued his desperate attempts to find his "Season 10 self" by channeling Simon Cowell. It's not working yet. But at least he's not spouting strange phrases like, "For me, for you, for me . . . Dawg . . .blowing it out the box." It seems as though Season 10 is shaping up to be something of a debutant ball for Mr. Jackson, after nine long years in Cowell's shadow.

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But since the producers insist this show is about the talent, and not the judges (pause for effect), let us briefly recap some of the notable contestants from Idol's visit to Austin.

Holly Cavanagh gave a timid rendition of Etta James's, "At Last," her nerves clearly getting the better of her. Randy was ready to pass on the 17-year-old Brit, but JLo encouraged her into a rousing, tear-filled, cover of Miley Cyrus's, "The Climb," which got her through to Hollywood. Did everyone catch the subtle way the song's lyrics mirrored the real-life struggle of our contestant, her confidence building into a crescendo with the music? You can't fake this kind of poignancy.

The introduction of John Wayne Schulz gave this episode some true comic-relief and reminded viewers why Ryan Seacrest is the unsung hero of American Idol, the one personality the show could not do without. Schulz's mother explained to Ryan that they named their son "John Wayne" because her husband wanted a son that was "rough and tough." Ryan Seacrest quipped that it would have sucked if he had been their son. But the father had the last word when he assured Ryan, that had he been their son, he wouldn't be the way he is now.

In addition to his rather-funny father, John Wayne, possessed some real-life cowboy charm and good looks to match. The female viewers will likely overlook the producer's attempts to make this into a formulaic sob story (he tried out because he made a promise to his mother when she was diagnosed with breast cancer) and embrace this handsome contestant with open arms.

Oh, and he can sing, too!

Contestant Courtney Penry, was all too pleased that the Schultz's didn't raise Ryan Seacrest, since she wouldn't change a thing about him; calling him the "sexiest man alive" and declaring that he would be hers someday. This 17-year-old student had such natural, comedic timing, it came as a real surprise that she could not only imitate a chicken reasonably well, but also carry a pretty melodic tune. Let's hope she gets an abundance of airtime in Hollywood week to offset the drama.

American Idol's self-proclaimed power couple, Jacqueline Dunford and Nick Fink, set out to show last week's dysfunctional duo, Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oakes, that committed bliss is more marketable. Sure, they were sugar sweet, but there was also something refreshing and endearing about these two. Jacqueline likely will outlast her true love on their Idol quest, but for now they are on their way to Hollywood and all is right in their world.

Casey Abrams, was the final contestant of the evening, which would suggest that he'll be making it through with either a sad story or some serious talent. Thankfully, they spared viewers another weep-fest and treated us to a unique, soulful performance.

In the end the judges sent a whopping 50 contestants from Austin to Hollywood. In the past, this was called "Hollywood Week," but the number of people with golden tickets may require the show to film its first ever, "Hollywood Week and then-a-few-extra-days-because-we-need-to-accommodate-all-the-people-who-we-sent-through-because-they-cried."


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